Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

What now? December 4, 2010

No writing this week. Not wasted time- I’ve read two Blazes which I loved, as I wanted to get a feel for the line and I hadn’t read one for a while (they were Sam Hunter’s Taking Care of Business and Kathy Lyon’s Make Your Move). I’ve also done a lot more reading and thinking about a whole lot of stuff that goes into making stories with strong proactive characters who drive the plot. Main things seem to be good conflicting goals for the hero and heroine, something that drives them to act and therefore drives the plot. In my stories at least one character always seems to have the goal of keeping their life how it is when the other character erupts into it. I’m not sure that’s good enough, as it’s almost always going to make that character reactive and not proactive. Unless they can then come up with an active plan to stop their life being disrupted, which is something I only just thought of…

Anyway, all that thinking and I can’t decide what to do next!

Option 1– Do I use what I learned so far to have a go at rewriting the rejected Superromance story? Reasons for- I love these characters and have a completed first draft. It may not take too big a change to fix the issue of reactive rather than proactive characters and too much external stuff. It’s hard to explain that one- it is a big change, but I know how to do it so it won’t be hard,  just a lot of new words, if that makes sense. Reasons not to- I suspect this story has other problems besides the key one Megan mentioned. Mainly that a lot of the heroine’s internal conflict hinges on her big sekrit, which she keeps from both the reader and the hero until the big reveal at the 3/4 mark, which triggers the Black Moment. That needs rethinking too. She can’t reveal it to anyone else, that’s not at all in character, but maybe the reader needs to know, needs to understand her conflcit, why she’s so torn, why she can’t accept what the hero is offering her. The other issue is that while she has a big character arc, a lot of growth and change, as it is the hero does not.

Option 2– Do I keep going with the WiP, which I know has the same problem of at least one essentially reactive character,  the additional issue of not being clearly targetted to any line ( it’s feeling too sexy to be a Super, as the sex is the way into the relationship; yet not sexy enough to be a Blaze), and also conflict that just doesn’t feel strong enough to carry the story? I know the basic internal conflict can’t be right yet as I needed to add something new in- the heroine can’t have kids and the hero wants them- what I am doing is an old problem of combining lots of conflicts rather than one core conflict. I did think of one thing that would tie it all together for the heroine and make her key issue one of seeing herself as a defective woman so rejecting her femininity and any sort of traditionally female role. Lots of backstory in her family of origin that created this, topped off by her discovering a health issue aged sixteen that meant she would never menstruate and could not have a child. Needs to be worked out more. Her issue will be self-acceptance then. The hero needs more work too- his issue is more around being willing to roll with change, and the heroine is a change agent. It’s all a bit messy. Odd that when I started writing I thought I had a good clear-cut conflict- it just gets messier and messier- which tells me I don’t have it at all! I did have a good aha moment when I realised in my plan as it was I had the heroine’s resolution of her conflict looking like it came from an external event. I know now that it can’t- she has to decide to change. I want to keep the external event, but she needs to have already decided to change. All the external event does is delays her being able to tell the hero, and gives her more emotional grief and some deep regret- she’s ready to be with him, all her excuses have fallen away, and now not only can she not tell him, their chance of a future together might be gone. It feels kinda powerful that way. Almost will give a double black moment- it looks resolved, then this external event gets in the way. She needs to have made the decision to go to him, be feeling happy and relieved and as if it’s all going to work out before she hears about the external event that puts the hero in danger. Not sure if it will work like that (though now I think about it I do remember reading a Sarah Mayberry- Home for the Holidays- that had something similar) but it feels like it would.

Option 3 -Do I start over and try to get it right from the start with the new story idea?  Build in strong organic conflict and goals that will drive the characters into action. Have both characters needing to change, and their impact on each other forcing that change. This new idea seems to offer that, good opposing goals, the hero and heroine both have much the same internal issue and need to change (both of them have their whole personal identity and self-esteem wrapped up in their work, and they both want the same external thing- to run her father’s hotel chain), but I can’t see what the resolution will be! Also, is that enough of a relationship block? Neither allow close relationships, neither want to fall in love or be in a committed relationship. I need to know more about why.

She has been burned too many times by men who only wanted the heiress and not her, which is why she doesn’t tell the hero who she is when they first meet, and also doesn’t feel she is lovable (both because of the jerks and more fundamentally because she’s spent her whole life not measuring up to her father’s and her own memories of her perfect, beautiful, dead mother). He doesn’t want to let another person into his heart because his sensitive older brother committed suicide in his teens due to the pressure to succeed in their family. Mace succeeds easily, feels he owes it to his brother to be even more of a success as he took on the role in the family company that was meant to be his brother’s. Giving that up will feel like betraying his brother again. Allowing himself to love means risking the same hurt again he felt when Adam died. Hmm, there’s some potential there.

I want to go back and read the fabulous blog series the even more fabulous Julie Cohen wrote on character arc.  She shows how she plans character arc and then the key plot events flow for that. I want to see how that works with my characters for all these stories.

I’m inclining towards starting a new story. Of course, that shoots down any chance of entering SYTYCW, with a closing date of the 15th. I could possibly have a first chapter (though not really polished) and a synopsis- but not anything resembling a completed story! So maybe I should try option 2. Now I’m thinking that would be better- want to see it the double BM works.  Or why not option 1?

And now I’m back to being confused again!


Productive procrastination May 31, 2010

Filed under: What I'm reading,Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:19 pm
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Well, that’s what I hope I’ve been doing!

Still no actual work on the rewrite, but I’ve gone through all of the first draft looking at what needs changing and what works. The bad news is- nearly everything needs changing, there’s a lot of work involved. The good news is- the love scenes worked, the black moment made me cry, and the happy ending made me smile. Please God the final version will do that for it’s readers too!

I’ve spent the last two days going right through Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook: Hands-on Help for Making Your Novel Stand Out and Succeed, workshopping the story. Twenty pages of notes later I have a deeper knowledge of the characters and their conflicts, and a load of ideas to power the rewrite.  (And a fifty work pitch too!) I know how I want the completely new first three chapters to go, and I know the ending I have will work, with some tweaking. There’s a swampy middle bit I have not much idea about yet, so I’m hoping that will work out once I get the rewrite started…

I’ve also been reading as many stories as I can from different lines with similarities in the situation and the conflict, whether that’s the secret child, old lovers reuniting, or heroines who’ve been raped in the past. Not to copy other writers, but to see if how they handled it can spark any ideas, show me what I need to make sure I do to make it work.

Liz Fielding’s “Five Year Baby Secret” reminded me that the hero is not just going to be a little annoyed, he’s going to be angry as hell, majorly pissed off when he finds she’s kept his child from him. Donna Alward’s “One Dance With the Cowboy” showed me how reunited lovers will have that same sweet yearning for each other, despite what has come between them. Both those stories showed that the same issues that drove the couple apart in the past will remain unresolved now- and they can only reach their HEA by both dealing with the past issues, as well as their feelings about their separation.

No similarity to my current characters in any way, but a deeply emotional (three tissues needed!) and very hot Superromance- Sarah Mayberry’s “Home for the Holidays”. What was interesting there is that she has the same double BM/HEA I gave my characters- where it looks like things are resolving and they can be happy, then bang, something even bigger comes between them to push them apart. For her heroine it was something totally unexpected, while I hope mine still works even though the reader will know it’s coming.

I’ve just finished an old Presents- Jane Porter’s excellent “The Sheikh’s Virgin”, recommended by my crit group when I asked for stories with a heroine who had been raped. From this I’m getting the shame and yet paradoxical fierce courage of the survivor. My heroine has the shame and guilt, but she needs to show more of the tenacity, fight, and will for life that helped her get through something  so devastating and soul destroying.

Now I have to say- enough of the procrastination. I still have more books to read, but it’s enough.

Tomorrow I start the rewrite. For real. No excuses.


Bodybuilding for wimpy characters May 18, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:02 pm
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It’s official. Both my hero and heroine are Too Stupid To Live.

My hero is inconsistent. An example- he says he doesn’t want anything to do with the heroine, then goes around to her place to check she’s all right and invites her to his house for dinner. He falls straight back into his old pattern of being there for the heroine. Except where it’s all too obvious I’ve thought “But there’s no conflict!” and made him suddenly resist her.

The heroine is weak and wimpy. She is supposed to be a successful business woman, who’s made it on her own despite being a single mother. She sure doesn’t seem like that reading the story. She doesn’t make decisions and go for things, she just reacts to what is happening. And yes, she’s in a difficult situation that’s just turned her safe organised life upside down. Her old best friend and one time lover, who may or may not be the father of her seven year old son, has just reappeared in her life. He’s demanding she go back to her childhood home town, as her mother, who disowned her when she announced her pregnancy, is ill, maybe seriously.

But she needs to be stronger, feistier, have goals of her own and not get pushed around by other people’s needs and wants. She was a victim of her mother’s perfectionism growing up. She was a victim when she fell pregnant aged twenty and dropped out of uni. She stopped being a victim the minute she decided to keep her baby, survive on her own no matter what anyone else wanted her to do. (So deciding to run away and hide from her best friend Lock wasn’t the smartest idea, but she was young and dealing with some big emotional issues, and she was afraid he would reject her as her mother had done.) Anyway, she can’t be a victim now. She needs to find the emotional equivalent of a Bullworker, to turn her from an emotional 90 pound wimpy weakling into a strong independent woman worth loving, worth a great relationship.

I was on eHarlequin buying books and I saw this quote from MIRA author Robyn Carr –

“I’m naturally drawn to strong, capable female characters, and when I begin a story I ask myself, ‘What is she up against?’ I try to write about issues that every woman faces at some point in her life, without ever losing sight of the basic sense of humor that helps us all through hard times.”

That’s what I need to know. What is Cady up against? What does she want to happen? (Given that once the inciting event occurs, having things the same as they were is not an option, no matter how much she wants it.) What plans does she make for dealing with this? How does she regroup when things go wrong? How do her strengths help and hinder her?

I’m getting some of the answers. Her goal isn’t and can’t be just to get back to having things how they were before the story started. The most important thing of all for her is making a good life for her son Josh. He not only doesn’t have a father in his life, he doesn’t have grandparents either. Maybe he’s been commenting on that, even getting teased by other kids at school. So when Lock erupts back into her life, she may not want anything to do with him, but she could decide her goal is to mend the damaged relationship with her mother. Not for her sake, or her mother’s sake, but for Josh’s sake. As I wrote, I had the sense that things with her Mum were working out too quickly.  This goal can’t come easily. So she’s struggling to reestablish the broken relationship with her mother, at the same time she and Lock are struggling not to reestablish their own broken relationship.Meanwhile, Lock is getting to know the boy who may be his son, and come to terms with his emotions about that. There’s a lot going on there, a lot to pull them together and a lot to push them apart. The conflict with Lock, and with her mother, is the Bullworker that brings out Cady’s strength. The big weakness of my first draft is the lack of conflict, which comes from the characters not having meaningful goals.

Okay, it’s a good place to begin the rewrite. I can see what I need now, the first few scenes are falling into place. Not much of the first draft will survive into the second draft, but that’s okay. It was the “getting to know the characters” draft. Now the real story starts!

Edited to add- make sure you read Les Edgerton’s reply below- it’s a writing tutorial in itself!


Digging into emotion May 4, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 4:07 pm
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I still haven’t started any actual rewriting on Cady and Lock. I did have a brief temptation to start another story in the series, but I resisted, just wrote notes and filed them away instead!

I am trying to work out what needs fixing with this story, how it can be made stronger and better and especially more emotionally satisfying, before I dive into edits. I know I need to dig right down deep to the fundamentals of character and conflict and get that right before I do anything. I want everything in the story to be driven by who the characters are and what they need.

I’ve spent today getting to know my characters better, working on some questions about them and what they want and how the other person affects that. I realise my first draft feels a bit directionless, because no-one seems to have clear goals, they just go from one thing happening to another thing happening to another- it’s all reaction. I need to focus on that in the rewrite- making sure the character’s initial goals are clear and that in each scene the POV character has a goal, something they are trying to make happen. That will make the characters stronger and the story feel more purposeful. It will also feed into the conflict more. There is no conflict if no-one wants anything!

Doing a list of 20 Goals for each character was fun and told me some things I didn’t know. By the time I got to the end I was right down deep in the hidden emotional needs that Cady and Lock wouldn’t admit to themselves, let alone anyone else. That made me realise that a weakness in the story is that the characters are too self-aware. I have Cady doing something and Lock thinking, “This makes me feel rejected, just like when my father left when I was a kid.”


Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but close!

Real people (maybe especially men?) aren’t so aware of their issues and relationship blocks, otherwise they’d do something about them. Knowledge of what they are really feeling and why the other person is triggering them so badly needs to come gradually, in a dawning self-awareness, initial resistance to changing their beliefs, maybe small superficial changes that don’t affect their deepest held self-beliefs, up until the dramatic moment of “change or lose everything” of the Black Moment.

Next step will be storyboarding the scenes as I have them in first draft, and figuring out what should and shouldn’t be there. Some scenes can be kept but tweaked to make them better. Some scenes will need to be rewritten. Some scenes that are pretty but aren’t earning their keep may need to go entirely and be replaced with better ones. The story will be essentially the same, but I have plenty of ideas to make it stronger, more focused, more emotional, more dramatic. Hopefully, more Page Turning Quality to make it interesting for the reader!


Making the story stronger- the heroine April 26, 2010

Feedback  one of my crit buddies got from her editor today made me have a great big lightbulb moment about my WiP.

You know that nagging certainty something is seriously off with the story but you can’t quite get what it is? (LOL, maybe you guys don’t have those moments. Lucky you if you don’t know what I mean!).

I figured it out.

My heroine is a wimp. She’s a victim. She just reacts to things, she doesn’t make decisions and take action. The funny thing is, I thought she did! But she doesn’t. She isn’t instigating things. She has it all together and she’s achieved a lot, looks like a big success, but the whole story is her being pushed around by external events. It’s almost like she goes back to her home town and steps back into a child role too, of letting other people or circumstances make her decisions for her.

This will NOT work! Heroines have to be strong, gutsy women a reader can admire, identify with. She’s their way into the story, and without a sympathetic heroine there’s no way the reader can get emotionally involved. It makes sense that to strengthen the story, I need to strengthen my heroine. Not that she has to be perfect. She’s got to have flaws and insecurities and baggage from the past that gets in the way of her being in a relationship with the hero, she’s got to have an emotional journey to make in the story. But she’s also got to be someone the heroine can imagine being, or wanting to be, or being best friends with. She can’t be weak, wishy-washy, or waste time too much time feeling sorry for for herself.

I’ve put my heroine in a difficult situation, where she has a past that’s truly terrible in more than one way. She also doesn’t have a clear external goal, all she seems to want is to get through the experience intact and get back to things being how they were (nicely under control, with the past neatly suppressed). And everything she does to try to fix things, to make things better, has to just complicate things even more. Yet she also needs to come across as not a victim, shoved first one way then the other by fate. Her life pretty much has to unravel before she can put it back together again (as does the hero’s), yet she has to stay strong, resourceful, focused on her goal and on making it work.

The answer is, I think, she needs a better goal.

Something Shirley Jump said in the workshop I’m doing:

Romance is NEVER the goal.

The romance COMPLICATES the external plot (which then creates more conflict). The hero and heroine meet at the worst possible time, essentially.

So your scenes still need external goals, and then having the h/h relationship becomes a complication to that goal.


Okay, now I need to find out what that goal is. Time for a List of Twenty, I think!


Diving into character development December 20, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:32 pm
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After getting myself totally confused yesterday about which of the characters clamouring for my attention to write about first, I did manage to get more focused.

I’m going to write Kate and Adam, a story that will probably end up being submitted to Superromance. She’s a community nurse, the sole health care provider in an isolated Australian township, he’s a journalist assigned to write a story about her work. A quiet country village is the last place on earth he wants to be, and the last thing she wants is a TV crew following her around when she sees her patients. Especially when the TV crew is led by devastatingly gorgeous Adam Kelly, who may just tempt her to drop all her carefully built defences…

This is a story I started ten years ago. This couple really have been waiting a long time for their happy ever after! What stopped me the first time were my usual problems- slow start and overcomplicated external conflict.

My original story was a doozy, I threw in everything, including the kitchen sink (a washing-up scene that ended up with them kissing- might keep that in, actually!). The black moment came because the hero was helicoptered to Sydney after a car accident, had amnesia and couldn’t remember the heroine even though he’d been just about to propose to her, and the wicked other woman jumped in and claimed to be his fiancee. Sooooooooooo wrong! It’s going to be fun starting again from scratch with the same characters but hopefully getting it right this time!

Reading up on hero/heroine archetypes. Though I think they can be a bit one dimensional, it’s a good place to start. My original concept had very little internal conflict, but I’m already getting some good insights into the characters and seeing how to change the external events so they hook right into their internal conflict. Just little tweaks in some cases but making crucial differences.

I realised my hero is a warrior, who because of his wounds needs to find different battles to fight, so he’s feeling lost at the start of the story. Part of his journey will be finding those new battles and a new definition of himself. Just realised that means a key scene (there’s a car accident in the community) should play totally differently to intensify his inner conflict. He was going to be the injured person in the truck who she had to overcome her terror of heights to abseil down to, but it works so much better if someone else is injured and he is forced to stand by feeling useless and frustrated because he can’t do it in her place. This may even be the pivotal event which forces the Black Moment (it was in the original version, but for completely the wrong reasons!).

The heroine is a dedicated nurturer, but has denied a big part of herself in the process, which of course the hero is going to challenge her to find again.

Oh, I love this story! I love the way it’s coming together!

Now I just have to decide if him accidentally trespassing and catching her skinny dipping  in her own private stretch of river is too racy a start to a Superromance…


Torturing our characters December 19, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:04 pm
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I woke up this morning still not clear which of the three sets of characters I am thinking of I will write about first.

I am good at creating characters I love, who feel real to me, who I want to see having a wonderful happy ever after.

Maybe that’s why I am not so good at creating conflict for them!

Deciding to try targeting Supers isn’t  an escape to a nice safe fluffy world where we can be kind to our characters and nothing bad ever happens on a sweetly flower strewn path to their lovely HEA. LOL, if there was a line like that I’d be a natural for it.

Problem is, no one would want to read it! What makes a satisfying story is the way the characters overcome difficulties on the way.

External conflicts feel easier to write. They somehow don’t seem so agonising for the characters. Throw some roadblocks their way, and strong characters will rise to that challenge, no matter how insurmountable it may seem. But have them struggling with deep and maybe previously hidden internal issues, have them yearning towards the other character, feeling it’s just not possible for them to be together? That hurts, it’s a painful process for the characters, and for me as a writer.

So it’s easy for me to create the most fantastically complex external conflicts. I have one unfinished story about a waitress/illustrator coerced into a marriage of convenience with a businessman who needs to be married to gain complete control of his buisness empire. This story has not one but two villains (one opposing each character) they have to work together to overcome, and complex backstories, especially for the heroine.

Reading the notes I did for the characters and plot, there’s a lot of internal conflict here too. The external conflict hooks into the characters internal conflict. It should be a good balance. But there’s way too much of it for 50,000 words!  I just gave up on this one because it got too complicated and tortured.

Somewhere, there’s got to be the balance between no conflict and way too much over the top conflict!

Reading my notes for that abdandoned story made me think of something that’s also important- not just the setting up but the resolution of the internal conflict. Should this be something that comes from within the character themselves, rather than being triggered by external events?

Example of just one layer of conflict from this complicated story- an adopted heroine has been told lies about who her natural mother is, which have damaged her self image and make her avoid relationships. That’s one of her internal relationship blocks. Does it work better for a reader if she meets her birth mother and finds the truth about herself and that  external event helps free up that internal conflict; or if she does it all internally and decides it doesn’t matter who her birth mother was, she is worth loving anyway?

The hero has a similar belief that he is intrinsically unlovable, though in his case it’s because his rich mother passed him from distant nanny to distant nanny, ensuring he never had the chance to experience being loved and really cared for. He feels women only want to be with him for his wealth and fame. For him, it’s discovering that the heroine (who is being blackmailed) is willing to give it all up to protect him that shakes that belief. Again, the external circumstance affects the internal relationship block. Does that work, or is it more emotionally satisfying for him to change that belief himself, without needing the external validation?

Looking at the plot ideas and internal issues I noted for the story I mentioned, it does not sound like I don’t want to torture my characters! I certainly planned to put these two through hell. But then again, I never wrote it. I moved on to an idea that seemed simpler, that didn’t have enough conflict!

I know I’m probably overthinking things again.  I probably need to just pick a story and start writing. But I feel that there’s something essential about satisfying conflict that I am just not getting!

I need to reread some published stories and make notes on the conflict and how it works out. I’m not very good on “reading like a writer” and crtically analysing this stuff. I get carried away on the story! But looking at how it works is probably the best way to see this, rather than trying to think it out.

At least I have decided which story I am going to work on. Some of this questioning about conflict might just be procrastination as well as a need to learn! The characters who’ve been waiting longest for their HEA- Kate and Adam- are going to get their story.